B'nai B'rith volunteer Jason Langsner interviewed B'nai B'rith CEO Daniel S. Mariaschin for Kol HaBirah on recent incidents of anti-Semitism.
Mariaschin said: “It is vitally important that when these incidents occur, every sector of the community needs to respond by repudiating and speaking out but also by educating about anti-Semitism and intolerance. That means educators, churches, and public officials, among others, need — every time — to rise to that occasion.”
A young man walked out of Congregation Har Shalom in Potomac, Maryland, on Rosh Hashanah 5778. He wore a yarmulke on his head, as did many celebrating the Jewish New Year across the District of Columbia, Virginia, and other parts of Maryland. Marking the holiday connected him with Jews around the world, but this man’s sense of joy was abruptly disrupted when a passing vehicle slowed down so the passengers could deliver their own holiday greetings. Through an opened window, they screamed two words:
This young man was verbally assaulted for no other reason than being Jewish in public — and not in Europe during the 1930s, but in Maryland in 2017.
“Yes, this was in Maryland. In Potomac. On a major road,” Maryland State Sen. Cheryl Kagan wrote online after hearing about this incident. “The driver clearly had no fear of sanction or consequence as he left behind him a terrified and depressed neighbor who had just been celebrating the New Year.”
Earlier in the month and over the summer, anti-Semitic pamphlets were found in multiple locations in Montgomery County, Maryland. Georgetown University experienced three incidents of anti-Semitism on campus, including a swastika painted in a women’s bathroom, also discovered on Rosh Hashanah. American University is currently investigating an incident near its Hillel office.
The Georgetown and Congregation Har Shalom incidents on Rosh Hashanah were reminiscent of the incidents during Passover of this year at the Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia in Fairfax and at Little River United Church of Christ in Annandale. Swastikas and other symbols of hate speech were found on the buildings and surrounding the properties. What is different about the Virginia events, however, is that an individual was already arrested and charged for these crimes.
The Uniform Crime Reports Program, part of the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services Division, tracks hate crimes across the United States. According to the most recent publicly available federal data (numbers for 2016 won’t be available until next month), U.S. law enforcement agencies reported 1,402 hate crimes based on a religious bias in 2015. Of those, 52.1 percent of crimes were motivated by “anti-Jewish bias,” the highest proportion for any religious group. For comparison, anti-Muslim bias accounted for 21.9 percent and anti-Catholic bias accounted for 4.3 percent of all hate crimes motivated by religion.
Looking locally, the 2016 Annual Report on Bias Incidents published by the Montgomery County Department of Police found a 42.4 percent increase of hate incidents compared to 2015 (94 versus 66, no specification for religious bias), “with most of the increase coming at the end of the year” following the presidential election.
In 2017, all indications show that the events in Charlottesville in August did not occur in a vacuum.
In Rockville, Maryland, local police identified four separate incidents between July and September 2017 when pamphlets — which featured white nationalist propaganda and were anti-Semitic in nature — were posted on street signs, telephone poles, and elsewhere. These occurred on Great Falls Road and West Montgomery Avenue. In Chevy Chase in September, a Jewish family found a pamphlet containing conspiracy theories and other anti-Semitic screeds at the front door of their home.
Sen. Kagan wants to attribute these incidents to ignorance, she said, but “with Montgomery County having such a large Jewish population, these perpetrators surely have friends, classmates, and neighbors who are Jewish.”
This personal connection makes it a “bigger offense,” she said.
She attributed the uptick in public incidents of hate in word and action to the current state of political rhetoric in the U.S. The hate doesn’t simply start and end with the Jewish people either, she said, sharing that she has heard from constituents who were told to “go back to where you were born” by strangers on the street just because of the color of their skin.
In June 2017, the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs released a special report on “Hate Crime Victimization.” It found that about 54 percent of hate crime victimizations were not reported to police from 2011-2015.
Andrew Friedson, who is running for the Montgomery County Council, spoke of the need to report bias incidents.
“Every act is not always a hate crime necessarily, but bias incidents are investigated and tracked and taken very seriously by our police,” said Friedson. He continued by saying that “information is power, and therefore, reporting all threats and acts of bigotry are an important part of preventing it.”
Friedson pointed to the reaction to the Chevy Chase incident as a case study and model of how to respond to such acts as a community. He recommended:
1.) Contacting your local police department to document the incident for them to investigate;
2.) Reporting it to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) at www.adl.org/report-an-incident and to the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) of Greater Washington; and
3.) Hosting a community conversation with all directly and indirectly impacted parties.
“It is vitally important that when these incidents occur, every sector of the community needs to respond by repudiating and speaking out but also by educating about anti-Semitism and intolerance,” said Daniel S. Mariaschin, CEO of B’nai B’rith International (which, incidentally, established the ADL). “That means educators, churches, and public officials, among others, need — every time — to rise to that occasion.”
The conversation must also address the online world in addition to the real one: According to a 2016 press release, over the course of last year the ADL tracked 2.6 million anti-Semitic tweets that were seen an estimated 10 billion times, which the organization believes “contributed to reinforcing and normalizing anti-Semitic language — particularly racial slurs and anti-Israel statements — on a massive scale.”
The Greater Washington community — Jewish and beyond — is rising to the occasion. After the anti-Semitic flyer was found in Chevy Chase, town council member Joel Rubin contacted Friedson, who connected the victim and town officials to leaders at the Jewish Community Relations Council, the ADL, and local police. That prompted a community forum organized by Rubin that included representatives of the Montgomery County police and the State Attorney’s Office, the ADL, and Communities United Against Hate. Each spoke about the issue, what can be done as concerned citizens, and what can be learned from it to respond to all forms of hate as a community pro-actively.
The Virginia Attorney General has launched the “No Hate VA” program, Maryland's Attorney General addressed an interfaith gathering on hate crimes convened by the Baltimore Jewish Council, and the 23rd Annual ADL in Concert Against Hate will be hosted at The Kennedy Center on Oct. 30. All of these efforts are integral to a meaningful dialogue that can serve to unite our communities in the face of forces that would divide them.
Jewish News Service: Palestinian Saddam statue is a ‘poke in America’s eye,’ diplomats and leaders say
The Jewish News Service included a B'nai B'rith statement in its story on the Palestinian Authority (PA) unveiling a statue of Saddam Hussein in Qalqilya, a territory in the PA.
B'nai B'rith CEO Daniel S. Mariaschin said: “The placing of this [latest] monument tells you everything you need to know about those who made the decision. Saddam brutalized his people, killing many thousands, including using chemical weapons. Venerating a dictator like Saddam speaks to the depravity of those who chose to ‘honor’ him.”
The unveiling of another statue of Saddam Hussein in Palestinian Authority (PA)-controlled territory is “a poke in America’s eye” and “an impediment to peace,” ex-diplomats and American Jewish leaders say.
The Associated Press (AP) reported on Oct. 23 that a large statue of the late Iraqi dictator was recently unveiled on a major thoroughfare in the PA city of Qalqilya, with district governor Rafea Rawajbeh in attendance. The AP noted that there are statues of Saddam in “several other Palestinian towns” as well.
According to Itamar Marcus, director of Palestinian Media Watch, there is also a “Saddam Hussein Square” in both Jenin and the PA’s de facto capital of Ramallah, and a “Martyr Saddam Hussein School” in the PA village of Yaabad. Ori Nir, spokesman for Americans for Peace Now, told JNS.org that during a visit to the area last year, he saw a Saddam statue “on the northern outskirts of Ramallah.” On an earlier visit, Nir said, he saw a Saddam monument in a village near Ramallah.
Former Israeli ambassador and peace negotiator Alan Baker told JNS.org, “The Palestinian leadership feels that it has sufficient international clout that enables it to poke America in the eye…The fact that the U.S. negotiation team is running after the Palestinian leadership and fearful of anything that might annoy or offend them only strengthens the Palestinians in their determination.”
Baker—who has also served as the deputy director-general of Israel’s Foreign Ministry—recalled that during his years as a diplomat, neither the Clinton, Bush nor Obama administrations ever seriously protested anti-American statements or actions by the PA.
“That gave the PA the feeling that it had a ‘green light’ to continue such behavior,” Baker said.
Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.), co-chair of the House Republican Israel Caucus, told JNS.org that he is “appalled, but not surprised that leaders of the Palestinian Authority would honor Saddam Hussein, a war criminal responsible for the deaths of thousands of U.S. troops.” Roskam added, “These same Palestinian leaders regularly incite, reward, and memorialize terrorists with Israeli and American blood on their hands. President [Mahmoud] Abbas and his government need to decide whether they stand with us in the fight against terrorism or prefer to foster a barbaric and terror-loving society.”
A total of 4,791 American soldiers were killed fighting against Saddam Hussein in the Gulf War of 1990, and in the Iraq War of 2003 and its aftermath.
American Jewish leaders are strongly criticizing the PA’s continued embrace of Saddam. “The placing of this [latest] monument tells you everything you need to know about those who made the decision,” Daniel S. Mariaschin, CEO of B’nai B’rith International, told JNS.org. “Saddam brutalized his people, killing many thousands, including using chemical weapons. Venerating a dictator like Saddam speaks to the depravity of those who chose to ‘honor’ him.”
AIPAC spokesman Marshall Wittmann said in a statement to JNS.org that the Saddam statues are “incitement to violence” and “impediments to peace.”
To erect a statue of Saddam “is to advertise one’s moral bankruptcy,” said a leading Conservative rabbi, David Wolpe of Temple Sinai in Los Angeles. “The U.S. government should protest this outrage in the strongest terms.”
Yoram Ettinger, a former minister for congressional affairs at the Israeli Embassy in Washington, is urging the Trump administration to examine the PA’s use of the $357 million it received from the U.S. last year.
“At a time when the U.S. is struggling with its own budget and cutting many domestic programs, the PA is using American taxpayers’ money for schools, squares, and statues honoring one of America’s most barbaric enemies,” Ettinger told JNS.org.
Ettinger said the PA’s affection for Saddam as well as dictatorships such as Iran, Cuba and North Korea “is a clear indication of the anti-U.S. direction which would be assumed by a Palestinian state.” Such a state would be “another anti-U.S. Arab entity which would destabilize the Middle East, and fueling subversion and terrorism, threatening vital American interests.”
Peace Now’s Nir disagrees. While he “dislikes the choice” of Saddam as an object of veneration, Nir believes that the creation of a Palestinian state “should not be contingent on changing the hearts and minds of Palestinians.” Nir told JNS.org that Israel should reach a “contractual peace agreement” that would include a Palestinian state in most of the territories and part of Jerusalem, and “hopefully, an agreement would gradually change attitudes.”
Sarah Stern, president of the Endowment for Middle East Truth, said Nir’s position “would be playing roulette with Israel’s very existence.” If a Palestinian state is established, “Israel will be just nine miles wide and incredibly vulnerable,” Stern said. “We can’t just hope that the Palestinians gradually become peaceful. They have to prove that they have genuinely changed their ways before anyone starts asking millions of Israelis to risk their lives on that kind of gamble.”
According to Palestinian Media Watch, there are many other sites, institutions and events in PA territory that are named after Saddam, including a monument in Beit Rima, a neighborhood in Vadi Barkin, a district branch of the Fatah movement in Jenin and a soccer tournament in Tulkarm. In 2005, the U.S. provided $402,000 to pave the main street in the town of Yaabad; two years later, the street was named after Saddam, in order to “emphasize the values of Arabness and Jihad,” according to the Yaabad municipality.
The Jamaica Observer covered the B'nai B'rith Diplomatic Encounter Series, where Ambassador of Jamaica to the United States and Permanent Representative of Jamaica to the Organization of American States Audrey P. Marks addressed the historic, trade and technology relations Jamaica has with the United States and with Israel.
The diplomatic encounter series enables ambassadors and other Washington officials to directly address the most pressing diplomatic issues of the day.
Jamaica's Ambassador to the United States Audrey Marks is inviting Israelis to explore investment opportunities in Jamaica.
Ambassador Marks, who addressed members of the B'nai B'rith International Center for Human Rights and Public Policy at its headquarters in Washington, DC recently, urged members who have an interest in trade and investment to organise a delegation to Jamaica to look at prospects in the areas of information and communications technology (ICT), agro-processing, medical tourism and infrastructure development.
“Avenues through which partnerships between Jamaican and Israeli investors could be forged could also be explored,” she pointed out.
She also offered to help organise a similar mission of Jamaican investors to Israel.
“Ladies and gentlemen, Jamaica is open and ready for business. Over the last five years, a stable economy has been maintained. Jamaica was listed as having the best-performing stock market in the world in 2015 and was rated as being among the 10 most improved economies in the world. The (2015) Forbes Best Countries for Business Report has improved Jamaica's ranking from 64th to 59th for ease of doing business, and the number-one country in the Caribbean for doing business,” the ambassador pointed out.
She noted that Jamaica is considering establishing a Jamaican diaspora bond, like that of the highly successful Israeli diaspora bond, and would welcome any guidance or support that can be offered “as we seek to undertake this endeavour”.
Marks said that Israel's “incredible ingenuity” as a small state is truly commendable, noting that there is so much Jamaica can learn from the country.
She said that the Government of Jamaica is committed to working with “our Israeli counterpart to ensure that our bilateral partnership continues to grow from strength to strength”.
The diplomat indicated that she has already started discussions regarding a youth exchange programme.
Founded in New York in October 1843 by German Jewish immigrants, the B'nai B'rith International is the world's oldest Jewish service organisation.
Its mission is to unite people of the Jewish faith and to enhance Jewish identity through strengthening Jewish family life, providing broad-based services for the benefit of senior citizens, and facilitating advocacy and action on behalf of Jews throughout the world.
The Order of AHEPA interviewed B'nai B'rith CEO Daniel S. Mariaschin on B'nai B'rith's history with Greece and its senior housing program, which consists of 38 buildings in 28 communities, encompassing more than 4,000 apartment units and serving more than 8,000 people.
The New York Jewish Week interviewed B'nai B'rith International CEO Daniel S. Mariaschin on the recent election held in Austria, which was won by the far-right Freedom Party leader Sebastian Kurz. Kurz is now set to be Austria's next chancellor.
Mariaschin said: “There has been a perfect storm of a number of issues that has brought about the success of these parties.There has also been a disillusionment with the European Union and a belief that Brussels [the seat of the EU] is filled with bureaucrats who don’t really care about the people. That has rolled into the same kind of anger you see on the right, and it will make doing business with the Austrian government difficult should these people enter the government — there will always be a shadow havnging over it.”
Jewish groups were breathing a sigh of relief earlier this year after far-right political parties in France and the Netherlands did poorly in national elections. But there is renewed concern now following the surprising strength of far-right parties in elections over the last three weeks in Germany and Austria.
Mindful of the fact that Austria is often seen as a political bellwether in Europe, Jewish groups are calling upon Sebastian Kurz, Austria’s presumptive next chancellor, not to form a coalition government with the country’s far-right Freedom Party because of its past neo-Nazi ties. Mail-in votes were still being counted this week following Sunday’s election, and the Freedom Party was running neck-and-neck with the center-left Social Democrats.
Moshe Kantor, president of the European Jewish Congress, released a statement saying the Freedom Party had “run on a platform of xenophobic intolerance and the targeting of immigrants [and that it] must not be granted a seat at the governing table.”
Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, who was America’s ambassador to Austria from 1986 to 1987, issued a statement calling the party’s strong showing “sad and distressing.”
“… [T]hat such a platform should receive more than a quarter of the vote. … It is still full of xenophobes and racists and is, mildly put, very ambiguous toward Austria’s Nazi past. My only hope is that they won’t end up in government.”
Kurz has yet to decide which party to invite into his coalition government, but he told the Israeli newspaper Israel Hayom that no matter which party he chooses, it would first have to denounce anti-Semitism.
“The fight against anti-Semitism and a policy of zero tolerance against any anti-Semitic tendencies is very important for me,” he said. “This is a clear precondition for any coalition that I would lead. There must be no doubt about this at all. None. The FPO [Freedom Party] has in the past shown efforts to fight anti-Semitism, in its own ranks as well, and I expect them to continue to do so.”
The strong showing of the far-right parties in Germany and Austria is attributed to a growing anti-immigrant populism and nationalism that is in stark contrast to the European Union’s support of open borders for trade and immigration. Austria’s Freedom Party has been around a long time, founded in the mid 1950s by a former Nazi SS officer. Germany’s far-right party, Alternative for Germany [AfD], was founded in 2013 and it garnered more than 13 percent of the vote.
But Maram Stern, the WJC’s deputy CEO of diplomacy, said in a phone interview from Brussels that the AfD vote was more a protest vote against German Chancellor Angela Merkel than a true reflection of voter support for the party.
“They were angry and just cast that vote to show their anger,” he said, explaining that their anger stemmed from the 1 million migrants Merkel admitted into the country.
Similarly, Stern said, “those who elected the Freedom Party did so because they were tired and sick of the old system [of government]. … People want fresh faces, which makes them believe there will be change.”
French voters got just that with their election of Emmanuel Macron as the country’s next president. He started his own party just a year ago and handily beat far-right nationalist candidate Marine LePen in a runoff election.
“Macron has a beautiful face and is young and fresh, just like [Canadian Prime Minister Justin] Trudeau,” said Stern.
Similarly, he said, Kurz, 31, is a “young, good looking and charming man who knows how to speak to people, and that made him win.”
But clearly the migration issue was paramount in voters’ minds and was “a key element in the [political] shift to the right,” said David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee.
“This includes a sense among some voters that integration hasn’t worked particularly well, that the sheer numbers of newcomers could affect the character and identity of countries, that decisions are too often made by leaders far removed from the consequences of those decisions, and that mainstream political parties have lost touch with what’s on the minds of these citizens,” he said in an email interview.
When the Freedom Party was part of Austria’s governing coalition from 2000 to 2005, the Israeli government responded by recalling its ambassador, and many European countries imposed sanctions on the country. [The sanctions backfired and were withdrawn within months.]
The Israeli government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has not signaled what it will do should the Freedom Party be asked to form a coalition government in Austria and observers said it was unlikely European countries would again impose sanctions.
Harris said Israel’s decision would “not necessarily” be easy and that he is sure Austria’s 9,000 Jews would want to weigh in.
Arie Kacowicz, a professor in the Department of International Relations at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, said he, too, does not know how Israel will respond should the Freedom Party be invited to form a coalition government.
“The idea of a right-wing party with a message against migration — there is just so much Israel can say about it,” he told The Jewish Week from Jerusalem. “In Germany, for the first time in years, we saw a right-wing party [elected to the Bundestag] and there was very little reaction from our government.”
Netanyahu did complain to Merkel, however, about the rise of anti-Semitism in Germany.
Dan Mariaschin, executive vice president of B’nai B’rith International, said that as Merkel looks for coalition parties to form her next government, “I don’t think she will include AfD. … She has made clear that the last thing she needs is that weight around her neck to reflect on her government.”
He noted that far-right parties now govern Poland and Hungary and that immigration and economic conditions were among the issues that propelled them to power.
“There has been a perfect storm of a number of issues that has brought about the success of these parties,” Mariaschin said. “There has also been a disillusionment with the European Union and a belief that Brussels [the seat of the EU] is filled with bureaucrats who don’t really care about the people. That has rolled into the same kind of anger you see on the right, and it will make doing business with the Austrian government difficult should these people enter the government — there will always be a shadow havnging over it.”
Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, said it should be remembered that “not long ago Austrians elected Kurt Waldheim as their president with their eyes wide open even after he had tried to hide his Nazi past. Who knows, it may have even helped him get elected.”
He said the success of the Freedom Party is “not about its old Nazi ties but about its reaction to taking in nearly 100,000 Muslim migrants and refugees. … The country has a fairly stable economy, but they were seen as outsiders who were taking our jobs and threatening our national identity.”
He noted that both the Freedom Party and Kurz’s People’s Party together amassed more than 50 percent of the vote. But the rabbi said he is urging Kurz not to form a coalition government with the Freedom Party.
Nevertheless, Sabine von Mering, director of the Center for German and European Studies at Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass., said she does not believe Kurz “has much choice.”
“The reason there was an election in Austria is that the public did not want the grand coalition anymore,” she said, referring to the coalition government of Chancellor Christian Kern and his center-left Social Democrats and Kurz’s center-right People’s Party.
The Israeli website Ynet reported this week that Israeli officials have determined that the Freedom Party is one “with clear anti-Semitic characteristics.”
The Freedom Party is led by Heinz Christian Strache, the political heir of Jörg Haider, the former head of the Freedom Party who adamantly insisted he was not anti-Semitic but who was known for his praise of Nazi leader Adolph Hitler’s employment policies. Haider was killed in a car crash in 2008.
Austria’s ambassador to Israel, Martin Weiss, told I24 News that the Freedom Party has changed its DNA and is now the party of workers who are concerned about the influx of migrant workers. Beginning in 2015, Austria became the gateway for nearly 900,000 migrants enroute to Germany; it reportedly received asylum applications from 68,000 of them.
Strache, 48, has admitted in interviews that as a youth he visited camps affiliated with Austrian neo-Nazi organizations. He was arrested by German police more than 30 years ago for taking part in a torch-lit protest by a group aping the Hitler Youth. He described all of this as things he did as a youth when he was “stupid, naïve and young.”
Strache visited Israel last year as a guest of Netanyahu’s Likud Party. He and his delegation met with members of the Likud Party and reportedly discussed such issues as terrorism, Israel’s right to defend itself and the EU decision to put separate labels on products produced in Israeli settlements – a policy Strache said his party “cannot tolerate.”
He also met with Likud Minister Yehuda Glick and committed himself to moving the Austrian Embassy to Jerusalem if his party wins the next election. [Kurz said this week that this is not the time to discuss such a “sensitive” issue.]
Regarding anti-Semitism, Strache told I24News last year that he has “always had the clear opinion that anti-Semitism does not belong in our party or society. …I was always fighting against anti-Semitic tendencies, and it is a personal matter for me.”
He has also suspended party members for anti-Semitic behavior, including one who gave a “Heil Hitler” salute.
Mering acknowledged that “Strache has been trying to cleanse himself” from those who hold such beliefs. But last month a group commemorating Nazi camp victims published a list of what it claimed were 60 anti-Semitic and racist incidents committed by Freedom Party members since 2013.
Similarly, Mering noted, LePen also tried to distance her party from anti-Semites, even “kicking her father from the party” because of his openly anti-Semitic views.
“She knew she would not have a chance to grow as a party unless it distanced itself from anti-Semites,” Mering said.
In Germany, on the other hand, “there are certainly neo-Nazi-leaning people in the AfD who are in the party and in the Budestag,” Mering said. “Even if the party’s leaders say they are not anti-Semitic, they do not do anything to distance themselves from those who are.”
“In the run-up to the German election, people made comments that Germans should not spend so much time feeling bad about the country’s Nazi past,” she pointed out. “But they have excellent lawyers to make sure that what they said openly could not be construed as anti-Semitic. What they are is openly anti-Muslim.
“But Jews should not be comforted and feel safe. Ultimately, these people are saying Germany is for the Germans and Austria is for Austrians — they don’t want Muslims or Jews, and I don’t see any reason to trust them.”
Financial Adviser Magazine included B'nai B'rith in its story on a report from the U.S. Public Interest Research Group that focuses on abusive mortgage practices that target seniors.
B'nai B'rith said: "As a sponsor of low-income senior housing, we are pleased that U.S. PIRG has highlighted the work of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to collect data on older consumers. By categorizing these complaints, we believe there is an opportunity to better understand trends of predatory behavior towards seniors in order to work towards greater protection in the workplace.”
Abusive mortgage practices were the leading source of more than 72,000 complaints to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau from consumers 62 years or older, followed by credit reporting and debt collection abuses, says a new report from the U.S Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG).
The report, co-authored by The Frontier Group, was cited by U.S. PIRG as additional evidence in its campaign against the Financial Choices Act (HR 10), which has been passed by the House. The group says the legislation would gut the powers of the consumer bureau at a time when financial scams against seniors are increasing.
“The Consumer Bureau has already taken numerous major enforcement actions against financial firms targeting older consumers,” says Ed Mierzwinkski, consumer program director at U.S. PIRG. “Gutting the CFPB makes it easier for financial scammers to move against older consumers threatening their homes and retirement savings.”
These were some of the key findings in the report:
• Mortgages account for 31 percent of complaints by older consumers. Other leading complaint categories were credit reporting (17 percent) and debt collection (17 percent).
• Eighty percent of mortgage complaints concerned traditional mortgages, but five percent of complaints were about reverse mortgages.
The report also listed some of the enforcement actions the consumer bureau has taken against companies ranking high in complaints:
• Mortgage enforcement actions have been filed against at least three mortgage companies ranked in the top 10 of the report’s complaint findings: Ocwen Loan Servicing, Nationstar Mortgage and Green Tree, which later merged with Ditech.
• The consumer bureau has taken actions against all three of the major consumer reporting agencies—in order of complaint volume, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.
• The consumer bureau has taken actions against the top two debt-collection companies—in order of complaint volume, Encore Capital Group and Portfolio Recovery Associates.
The report “shows the vital importance of the CFPB’s Consumer Complaint Database, which not only forces companies to respond to their customers effectively but also allows public interest advocates like U.S. PIRG to conduct critical empirical research that helps shine a light on areas of the market where policymakers need to focus,” says Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, D-N.Y.
“As a sponsor of low-income senior housing, we are pleased that U.S. PIRG has highlighted the work of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to collect data on older consumers,” said B’nai B’rith International. “By categorizing these complaints, we believe there is an opportunity to better understand trends of predatory behavior towards seniors in order to work towards greater protection in the workplace.”
The findings underscore that “the so-called Financial Choice Act is the wrong choice for older Americans and all consumers because it takes away the CFPB’s tools to protect us, allowing financial predators to run amok,” U.S. PIRG’s Mierzwinski adds.
In honor of our 174th anniversary, Eurasia Diary interviewed President Gary P. Saltzman about the history of our organization and the growth of anti-Semitism around the world.
Saltzman notes about our organization: "We advocate for Israel, the Jewish people globally, and for all people wherever they are for decency and acceptable human rights that all people are entitled to."
Mr. Saltzman, your organization celebrates its 174th anniversary on 13 October. I congratulate you and your team on occasion of this important date. Please, tell us how you managed to keep the organization.
When B’nai B’rith was created there was a need to help fellow Jews, and the 12 men who created B’nai B’rith saw a value in helping others. For 174 years, we have moved forward and changed and delivered services to people whenever and wherever they were needed. Hospitals, orphanages, libraries, disaster help for those in need, looking after Jews, focusing on Jewish continuity—we have always evolved and grown. For 174 years, we have been at the forefront of change and that allows us to stay as relevant today as we were at our founding.
Are you satisfied with the activity of your organization?
I am extremely satisfied with the efforts of our professional staff and our volunteers in carrying out the mission of our organization. The purpose of our existence today is as vital as it ever has been and we never take our eye off of our ultimate goals: helping people, tikkun olam (repairing the world). We advocate for Israel, the Jewish people globally, and for all people wherever they are for decency and acceptable human rights that all people are entitled to. We look out for seniors and for those in need of extra care, to make sure older citizens can live a life with dignity in their later years.
One of goals of the organization is to fight against anti-Semitism. How effectively does your organization stand against the spread of anti-semitism in the world?
We were there in 1945 when the United Nations was founded and received our NGO credentials at the U.N. in 1947. Our presence around the world with members and supporters affords us the opportunity to reach out to the leaders of the various nations to speak about the issues of anti-Semitism in the United States and globally, in Europe, in Asia, in Latin America, in Australia, New Zealand and in the Middle East: We are out there advocating with our professionals and volunteers to remind the world that anti-Semitism is not just a Jewish issue but leads to a global issue of hatred that can extend anywhere.
How do you assess the level of anti-Semitism in post-Soviet countries?
We have found a welcome response from the leaders of many of these nations who understand the importance of fighting anti-Semitism. Some have initiated programs and when they see signs or evidence of this activity, they are quick to respond to try to remind their countrymen about the evils of anti-Semitism and how it will not be tolerated under their leadership. Nothwithstanding that, we still see a disturbing increase in acts of anti-Semitism throughout Europe and we need to redouble our efforts in many capital in terms of education and law enforcement to counter this phenomenon.
What are your organization's plans for the near future?
During the remainder of my term as president, we will continue to be the global advocate for all people. We look to further our presence in the European theater while we are already there in many ways through the U.N. system and the parliamentary system of the European Union and we look to strengthening our outreach and further strengthen our determination and efforts to bring about a fair treatment for Israel and all people who suffer at the hands of human rights violations where they exist. We look to work on behalf of Israel for a just two-state solution and peace and offer our efforts wherever they may be helpful to further this possibility.
One-On-One with B'nai B'rith International CEO Daniel S. Mariaschin
BY ROBERT A. COHN, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus
Daniel S. Mariaschin, CEO and executive vice president of B’nai B’rith International, will be the keynote scholar at the upcoming B’nai B’rith Alfred Fleishman Institute of Judaism (see infobox for more information).
Mariaschin directs and supervises B’nai B’rith programs, activities and staff countries around the world where B’nai B’rith is organized. He also serves as director of B’nai B’rith’s Center for Human Rights and Public Policy.
Throughout his B’nai B’rith career, Mariaschin has represented the organization as part of influential delegations. He will be addressing United Nations bodies at the U.N. headquarters in New York prior to coming to St. Louis for his talk.
A native of Swanzey, N.H., Mariaschin has published numerous articles on foreign affairs and security issues for The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times and Newsday, and appears frequently as an expert on foreign policy on TV and radio shows.
Mariaschin’s last visit to St. Louis was in 2010.
In advance of his St. Louis visit, the Jewish Light caught up with Mariaschin for an interview.
Read the full interview here
Can you give readers who are less familiar with your work and history a snapshot of B’nai B’rith’s work?
B’nai B’rith enters its 175th year on Oct. 13. Our traditional mission of volunteerism in the community continues to guide our organization.
One good example of this is affordable housing for seniors. We were instrumental in pioneering affordable low-income housing for seniors in St. Louis and beyond. Partnering with the Department of Housing and Urban Development for more than 40 years, we now have more than 38 such properties around the United States, with 4,000 apartments and about 8,000 residents, enabling seniors, no matter their race or religion, to live comfortably and with dignity.
We also advocate for seniors on Social Security, Medicare and other issues. Our disaster relief programs are international, assisting victims of natural disasters in the United States, and around the world, who have seen earthquakes, tsunamis, floods and tornados bring devastation into their lives. And our support and advocacy for Israel is always at the center of our public policy programs.
B’nai B’rith was the original founder of the Anti-Defamation League to combat anti-Semitism and all forms of bigotry. How have the challenges of anti-Semitism and racism changed over the years?
The challenges from anti-Semitism and racism over the years have changed in some ways, and remain the same in others. Before the advent of the internet, we probably knew less about the extent of anti-Semitic acts, and often there was a time lag between the discovery of such activity and having the public learning about it. Today, we hear about it real time. The opportunity to spread anti-Semitism has increased exponentially, with the appearance of websites that promote hate, and bloggers and those who comment free to add their own ingredients of hatred to the mix.
Decades ago, we focused largely on hate from “traditional sectors,” most of which were on the fringe right. Today, we see manifestations of it everywhere: from the extreme left, the extreme right and from the Middle East. Today, being vigilant means tracking and responding to these threats and challenges each and every day.
How can we as Jews and organizations like B’nai B’rith respond to these challenges?
Confronting anti-Semitism and racism means all of us need to be involved. In addition to responding immediately when these acts occur, we need to re-double our efforts to educate each new generation of young people about the harm inflicted on all of us by hate speech, intolerance, and surely, acts of violence that can grow out of it. Mutual respect should be a basic value stressed not only in all of our schools, but at home and in non-school activities. We need this now.
How can Jewish leaders and individuals best respond to the presidency of Donald Trump, whose policies have often been at odds with positions held by many Jewish organizations?
As with every administration, few organizations are ever completely in sync with every policy position that emanates there. An organization like ours has long-held positions on a wide range of issues, domestic and foreign, from health care to immigration to relations with Israel, our positions at the United Nations, or the best way to conduct the war on terror.
Keeping doors open is important; we always want to make sure our voice is heard and that we have the right access through which to express our views. In my more than 40 years in the Jewish communal field, I’ve found that this is the most effective way to participate in the national dialogue over any number of issues, some of them fractious, and others more subject to non-partisan consensus.
Germantown News wrote an article on B'nai B'rith Lodge #35 member Joel Turetzky who collects bears for children in need. Turetzky and the lodge have been providing bears to hospitals and children's centers since 2004, and he estimates that they have donated more than 30,000 bears.
Joel Turetzky has been member of B’nai Brith Lodge #35 for a long time, and collected many stuffed bears for kids—and adults—in need of fuzzy companionship and a smile.
Turetzky said collecting teddy bears for victims of disasters, such as hurricanes, first responders or kids with illnesses or developmental disabilities, is all part of the B’nai Brith. B’nai Brith is an international organization (http://www.bnaibrith.org/) with members throughout approximately 48 countries who work to help communities in humanitarian ways.
In 2004, Turetzky said he was reading an article in the Commercial Appeal about how children at the Child Advocacy Center (CAC) was running low on bears for its annual bear walk event. The CAC provides support and services for abused and neglected children.
“I wasn’t the first person in B’nai Brith to ever do this, there was a lodge in Atlanta and in their newsletter I read an article about it. I said ‘I think this would be something we ought to consider doing,’” Turetzky said. “We went down to the CAC, and our goal was to collect enough money to go out and buy 300 teddy bears. We ended up with money for about 200.”
And the money was all collected the old-fashioned way: Making phone calls or stopping at a store to ask for donations, as this was long before online donations became an everyday convenience. Walgreens was one donor, Turetzky said, giving about 80 bears to the cause from a single location.
“We picked up the phone and called some of our board members and we set up teams and we went ‘bear-hunting,’” Turetzky said.
After donating to the CAC, the lodge gave bears to the Harwood Center, an organization for children with developmental disabilities. At the time, he said, the center had a classroom by the Jewish Community Center (JCC).
“We went in and met someone from Harwood there, and we thought, ‘Let’s expand this,” Turetzky said. “We checked with the Jewish Family Service (now JCC), and then we went ahead and we found Wing’s Cancer Foundation, which is the fundraising operation of West Clinic. So we started providing them with teddy bears, first for the one center in Memphis, and the past few years for all of their locations in the area.”
Over the years, the bear hunters have added other organizations and centers, such as the Madonna Learning Center, to their list of bear recipients. Others included the Hope House Day Care Center, a place for children who had AIDS or family members with AIDS, and the Church Health Center preschool and clinic. Even residents at Plough Towers, federally subsidized housing, got onto the list, as did at least one alcohol rehab center in town. The Methodist Germantown Hospital, which has a separate Le Bonheur children’s emergency room, has bears courtesy of B’nai Brith.
“And then of course the Mid-South Chapter of the American Red Cross, flooding victims, hurricane victims, and we also use them for military personnel and their families at the Millington base before they get ready to ship out for training,” Turetzky said.
A nonprofit medical mission called Tikkun Olam Nicaragua received some animals, too—400 bears went to that group the first year the local lodge donated, Turetzky said, added he knows they gave at least 800 bears to that cause over the years.
All in all, that’s a lot of teddy bears.
“I just added up an estimate, and I know we’ve crossed 30,000 mark,” Turetzky said.
Turetzky said most people appreciate the smaller bears, and recalled a law enforcement officer who rescued children from terrible home environments, such as crack houses. He received a teddy bear, and thanked Turetzky for it with tears in his eyes.
“It’s not just the little ones who appreciate it. The police officers, agents like (him), first responders, they have to see this day in and day out and they always appreciate the token,” Turetzky said.
B’nai Brith is a staff-directed group made up of men and women and is a mix of Orthodox, Conservative and Reform Jews, Turetzky said.
“You get a good diverse mixture,” he said.
B’nai Brith does other good in the community, as well. Through the B’nai Brith International Diverse Minds program, high school students write and illustrate children’s books and the lodge publishes one a year, and donates the books to libraries and schools through Shelby County. The winner receives a $5,000 scholarship and the runner-up a $2,000 scholarship, he said.
“Those are really interesting,” Turetzky said, adding that locals, such as Harold Steinberg, have sat on the review committee for the Diverse Minds program. “You’re talking about really sharp folks who donate their time to do this.”
Most of the folks in B’nai Brith who do the bear-hunting are retired, like Turetzky, who was a longtime schoolteacher, although that’s not a requirement—it’s just because retired folks tend to have more time to embark on such missions.
For victims of disasters, Turetzky said the lodge collects bears and donates them to the American Red Cross to distribute—over the years, they’ve gone to various places.
The last seven to eight years, the lodge has been able to get bears online and new technologies have helped streamline the purchase and collection process.
A lot of people stay involved in the project and keep it going, and Turetzky said he couldn’t take all the credit for the teddy bear program.
“Sometimes, it’s the small things that can mean the most,” he said.
JNS included a B'nai B'rith statement in its coverage of the NYU Skirball Center for Performing Arts hosting a play about the Palestinian terrorists who seized Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity in 2002 in order to avoid capture.
"B’nai B’rith International charged that the play 'glorifies terrorism and is not appropriate on any stage…At a time when terrorism has struck in so many places, it is highly irresponsible and reckless for such a public staging to take place.'”
American Jewish leaders are denouncing plans by a New York University (NYU)-affiliated theater to host a play that portrays Palestinian terrorists as heroes.
The NYU Skirball Center for the Performing Arts will host performances of “The Siege” from Oct. 12-22. The play focuses on the Palestinian terrorists who, in order to avoid capture by the Israeli army, seized Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity in the spring of 2002 and occupied it for 39 days.
“The Siege” was created by the Freedom Theater of Palestine, which is based in the Palestinian Authority-controlled city of Jenin. Among those promoting the play on YouTube is Ibrahim Abayat, one of the leaders of the church occupation. The Israeli government has identified him as the killer of New York City native Avi Boaz, in Bethlehem in early 2002.
The play was first performed overseas in England in 2015. The Board of Deputies of British Jews charged that it “promoted terrorism as positive and legitimate,” and the Zionist Federation of Great Britain and Ireland staged a protest rally outside the premiere.
American Jewish leaders now are similarly alarmed.
“Having witnessed firsthand the ‘siege,’ a blatant terrorist outrage, I am especially outraged at this presentation,” Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman and CEO of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, told JNS.org. “Diminishing the true nature of this brutal attack serves to whitewash terrorism at a time when this scourge is taking so many lives and threatening so many more.”
Hoenlein visited the scene of the siege at the time, together with WABC radio show host John Batchelor. “We were taken there in an [Israeli] armored vehicle,” Hoenlein recalled. “We saw the terrorists in the church wearing nuns' habits, marching back and forth with rifles. They terrorized the people in the church.”
In a statement to JNS.org, the Anti-Defamation League said that “based on past reviews, we believe it presents a one-sided Palestinian view of the events of 2002, [when] Palestinian terrorists targeted Israeli civilians city buses, in cafes, and even during a Passover seder, killing hundreds. We would hope those going to see ‘The Siege’ educate themselves as to the full events of this period and do not accept this representation as the full picture.”
B’nai B’rith International charged that the play “glorifies terrorism and is not appropriate on any stage…At a time when terrorism has struck in so many places, it is highly irresponsible and reckless for such a public staging to take place.”
Betty Ehrenberg, executive director of the World Jewish Congress for North America, said, “Plays that glorify, whitewash, or garner sympathy for terrorists do a disservice to history and also present a danger, by romanticizing terror and providing the rationale for it.”
“The Talmud teaches, ‘He who is merciful to the cruel is destined to be cruel to the merciful,’” noted Farley Weiss, president of the National Council of Young Israel, which represents more than 100 synagogues nationwide. “This play is merciful to the cruel terrorists and cruel to their Jewish victims. Nobody should be putting on plays that portray terrorists positively.”
Neither the hosts of the play at NYU, nor their financial backers, are anxious to be seen as endorsing “The Siege.” In a statement to JNS.org, Jay Wegman, senior director of the NYU Skirball Center, said the play “does not reflect NYU’s ‘position’ on a political controversy; rather, its staging reflects…the University’s commitment to the freedom of artistic expression.” He noted that an Israeli official involved in the Church of the Nativity negotiations will speak at NYU’s Taub Center for Israel Studies later this month.
The National Endowment for the Arts, which gave Skirball $25,000 last year; the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation, which contributed $2,900 to two upcoming projects; and the New England Foundation for the Arts, which donated $2,000 this year, emphasized in statements to JNS.org that their contributions were for programs unrelated to “The Siege.”
“In America, you have the right to glorify terrorism, but that doesn’t mean the right should be exercised in every instance, let alone elevated as an art form,” said Amanda Berman, director of legal affairs at The Lawfare Project, a nonprofit legal-focused think tank. “The Skirball Center is magnifying the terrorists’ message, when we should be burying it.”
Another major theater in Manhattan, The Public Theater, last year considered hosting “The Siege” but decided against it. Yet Oskar Eustis, artistic director of The Public Theater, is currently quoted in NYU Skirball’s publicity, calling the play “thoughtful” and “brilliant,” and praising it for showing the terrorists’ “despair and passion, their anger and vulnerability, their arguments and struggle.”
In addition, Eustis will take part in a discussion at NYU Skirball Oct. 16, together with the cast and playwright Tony Kushner, who has characterized Israel’s creation as “a mistake.” Neither Eustis nor The Public Theater’s spokesperson responded when asked by JNS.org if Eustis’s current involvement with “The Siege” conflicts with the theater’s rejection of the play last year.
Several Jewish and Israeli institutions are among the Skirball Center’s past financial supporters, including El Al Airlines, the Consulate General of Israel, and the Judy and Michael Steinhardt Foundation. “I hope they will speak out against Skirball’s decision to host ‘The Siege,’” said the National Council of Young Israel’s Weiss. “They are uniquely positioned to let the Skirball Center know how they feel about this anti-Israel play.”
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